Six blue tepals and some nectar thieves!

Spring Squill (Scilla verna) 2

Spring Squill is a lovely perennial wild flower, with lilac-blue or violet-coloured flowers which emerge each Spring from the underground bulbs. It can be found all along the north and west coasts of Western Europe: including Portugal, Spain, France Great Britain and Ireland. I took these photographs at the Morouzos beach protected area, a RAMSAR site, on the Ria Ortigueira in Galicia (N W Spain).  The plants were growing on cut grass verges next to the wooden walkways which protect the vegetation from visitors to this lovely site.  This plant does not like being trampled!

Spring Squill (Scilla verna)
Spring Squill (Scilla verna)

Spring Squill is a member of the Asparagaceae family; so this little lily is a distant cousin of asparagus! Each of the squill flowers consists of six ‘tepals’ – a term which is apparently used when the sepals and petals look identical and cannot be separated.  There are also six stamens, each capped with Cappadocia-like, dark brown anthers, effectively a ball of seeds. The blue ovary is at the centre of each flower. Interestingly, there were black ants on the flowers; but I only saw these after I opened the photographs and zoomed in! The ants are on or close to the ovaries so they are probably feeding on nectar. Ants can help to pollinate flowers by transferring pollen from one flower to another, but they can also be nectar thieves, just feeding on the nectar without carrying out any pollination services in return! (1).

Ants on Spring Squill
Ants on Spring Squill

A new species of squill from Galicia – Scilla merinoi – was recently described by some Spanish researchers from the University of Santiago (2).   Maybe this is it?!  Perhaps a botonist will see this and let me know!

1) Tia-Lynn Ashman and Emiley A. King (2005). Are flower-visiting ants mutualists or antagonists? A study in a gynodioecious wild strawberry. Am. J. Bot., 92:891-895.

2) Santiago Ortiz, Juan Rodríguez-Oubiña and Jesús Izco (2008). Scilla merinoi (Liliaceae), a new species from Galicia, northwestern Iberian Peninsula. Nordic Journal of Botany 13(2), 159-163.


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